This past Tuesday, Aaron Westrick, a whistleblower of defective bullet-proof vests, was awarded a Frank Wills & Martha Mitchell Pillar Award at the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights.

Pillar Awards are given by the Whistleblower Summit for Civil and Human Rights to recognize individuals and organizations that serve the community by supporting first, fourth, and fifth amendment protections. Specifically, the Pillar Award honors whistleblowers that are victims of retaliation or other forms of adversity as a result of exposing the truth. The Award not only recognizes the courage and strength of the whistleblower, but also the immense and positive impact that their disclosures bring to their community. Past recipients of the Pillar Award have included Diane Williams and Senators Corey Booker, Rand Paul, and Ron Johnson.


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Dr. Aaron Westrick

Dr. Aaron Westrick has won reinstatement of his claims under the California False Claims Act. Last Thursday, May 26, 2011, the California Court of Appeal for the Second District (in Los Angeles) issued its decision in State of California ex rel. Westrick v. Itochu International, Inc., Case No. B223053. On January 26, 2010, the Superior Court of Los Angeles County dismissed Westrick’s complaint, holding that his complaint did not plead the allegations of fraud with specificity. The Court of Appeal has now reversed and reinstated Westrick’s claims.

Dr. Westrick began his career as a police officer in Michigan. In 1982, he was shot by a fleeing burglar with a .357 Magnum from approximately five feet away. A Second Chance bulletproof vest, made of Kevlar, saved his life. Westrick subsequently earned a Ph.D. in sociology and criminal justice. In 1996, Second Chance hired Westrick as its director of research. On July 5, 2001, Dr. Westrick received a letter from the Japanese Toyobo Company stating that, “the strength of Zylon fiber decreases under high temperature and humidity conditions.” Dr. Westrick recognized that Zylon would degrade and that police officers would die while wearing "bullet-proof" vests made of Zylon. He asked his employer to recall its Zylon vests and have them tested.  In June 2003, Officer Tony Zeppetella of Oceanside, California, was killed when his $766 Zylon vest failed to stop two bullets. That same month, a police officer in Pennsylvania was seriously wounded when a bullet pierced his Zylon vest.

My colleague, Erik Snyder, presented Dr. Westrick’s argument to the Court of Appeal. It was Erik’s first oral argument. Based on this result, we can expect many more advances for whistleblower rights in Erik’s legal career. Congratulations to Erik and Dr. Westrick.

For more information about Dr. Westrick’s claims and the problems with Zylon, see this prior blog post. Some excerpts from the Court’s new decision follow in the continuation of this blog entry.


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Federal Judge Richard W. Roberts has denied a motion to dismiss a major suit claiming the Japanese manufacturer Toyobo sold millions of dollars of defective bulletproof vests.Dr. Aaron Westrick

Dr. Aaron Westrick filed the suit under the Federal False Claims Act in 2004, and the U.S. government formally joined the suit in 2005. The suit alleges that Toyobo conspired with Second Chance Body Armor, Inc. to sell defective body armor made of Toyobo’s Zylon material.

Thousands of vests were sold to police departments across the United States and the federal government. One police officer was killed and others were injured as a result of the use of defective Zylon in vests. The suit alleges that Toyobo and the companies who sold these vests knew about Zylon defects and concealed this information from their customers. The full text of a press release by the National Whistleblowers Center (NWC), with links to key documents, follows in the continuation of this blog entry.
 


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The U.S. Justice Department announced that it is suing First Choice Armor over its marketing of Zylon-based bullet-proof vests that the company knew would break down in heat or humidity. The suit follows disclosures by Dr. Aaron Westrick, a researcher for another manufacturer, who first opposed the use of Zylon for body protection.  Based on his disclosures, Zylon-based armor is now off the market, and officers lives have been saved.  Dr. Westrick was fired.


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